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Rob Edelman: International Baseball

These days, more than ever before, baseball-- otherwise known as America's Pastime-- is a truly international sport. According to the Associated Press, 28.1 per cent of current major leaguers were born outside the United States. They hail from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Japan, South Korea, Australia... And the potential for finding big league talent outside the U.S. is examined in MILLION DOLLAR ARM, the story of a sports agent, played by Jon Hamm, who heads off to India in search of players who just might become the next fireballing big league hurlers.

What is telling about MILLION DOLLAR ARM is that its story is based on fact. Hamm's character, J.B. Bernstein, is a real sports agent who did indeed head off to India to seek out big league talent. Bernstein in fact fashioned the "Million Dollar Arm" contest, which resulted in the signing by the Pittsburgh Pirates of the first Indian athletes to ever ink pro sports contracts in the United States.

Coming on the heels of the release of MILLION DOLLAR ARM was the Baseball Hall of Fame Classic, now in its sixth year, in which recently retired major leaguers partake in an exhibition game at Cooperstown's Doubleday Field. I posed the following questions to a number of ballplayers in attendance: Is the internationalization of major league baseball a good thing? Does it work for the players? Does it benefit the fans? And who better to ask than one of the most heralded big league imports: HidekiMatsui, the Japanese superstar, who was on hand representing the New York Yankees.

"It's great for the game," Matsui told me. For one thing, this internationalization has increased the sport's popularity outside the United States. But there still is work to be done in this regard. "Baseball only has (become more popular) in certain countries," Matsui added. "It hasn't (done so) all over the world." What's to prevent the sport from "progressing" (as Matsui put it) in every corner of the world?

Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, a coach of one of the Classic teams, pointed out that the increase of players from across the globe "only helps the game. Certainly, more people are becoming aware of (the existence of) baseball around the world." Fingers was one of the big leaguers who attended the world premiere of MILLION DOLLAR ARM on May 6 at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. "It's a good movie, and a great story," he noted. He was quick to add that "one of the kids (depicted onscreen) is still playing. He's now on the DL"-- which is baseball-ese for disabled list-- "but he's still playing in the minors."

Other players were all for the internationalization of the sport. "When I went to Japan in 1996," noted Brady Anderson, "I was able to see that there was a lot of talent there, a lot of talented ballplayers who could play and do well in the major leagues." Added Adam Everett: "I think it's great for the game, the more we are able to get the best players in the world." Explained Alex Gonzalez: "Anytime you can expand baseball around the world, you'll get more people watching it. And think about all the good players we'd be missing out on, like Ichiro..." Eddie Guardado offered a summation when he observed: "It's not just great for baseball. It's great for the world. You now have people from all over playing America's game."

Other players added additional insights. The financial implications of the title MILLION DOLLAR ARM were not lost on Luis Gonzalez. For after all, without throwing a major league pitch, MasahiroTanaka signed a seven-year, $155-millon contract with the Yankees. This comes after the Yanks forked out $20-million to his Japanese team. "International players should be subject to the (major league) draft," Gonzalez declared. "A foreign player can come in and scoop up, say, $28-million, while American kids have to go through the draft. So for foreign players, it becomes a bidding war."

And then Ivan Rodriguez, who has caught more big league games than any player in history, observed: "I think it's time for major league baseball to start thinking about having a team in Latin America. The best baseball in the world is played in the United States, but it would be great to have another big league team (located) outside the United States." I asked Rodriguez about the locales he had in mind. "Puerto Rico, where I'm from, would be a good place. Also Mexico. Latin America would be a great place to do it."

As he responded, I only could think to myself: "Well, why not?"

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

 

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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